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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    UA eyes a greener campus

    Natural resources professor John Koprowski fills up a university truck at the Facilities Management Motorpool Sept. 21. The motorpool is attempting to switch the majority of its fleet over to an ethanol based fuel, E85.
    Natural resources professor John Koprowski fills up a university truck at the Facilities Management Motorpool Sept. 21. The motorpool is attempting to switch the majority of its fleet over to an ethanol based fuel, E85.

    The heated issue of global warming and the drying out of the oil industry have fueled the need for UA scientists and students to focus on environmental sustainability, officials said.

    The oil industry peaked last year, and half of the oil in the world has been used up, said Guy McPherson, a professor of natural resources and ecology and evolutionary biology.

    “”If global warming is a three on a scale of one to 10, then peak oil is a 12,”” McPherson said.

    McPherson estimated a decline in oil supply during the next 20 to 30 years will account for the deaths of tens of millions of Americans. The current price of oil per barrel is $65, but within 10 years, oil is expected to cost about $400 per barrel, McPherson said.

    “”We will suffer more than any other country because we are so dependent on fossil fuels,”” he said.

    “”When oil costs that much, I doubt we will be using it to rip coal out of the ground with diesel-powered machinery or to haul coal on our diesel-powered trains to Tucson,”” said McPherson.

    McPherson added that it would be unlikely that oil would be used to power diesel pumps that deliver water to the desert from the Colorado River.

    “”And without air conditioning, Tucson is not a pretty place to hang out,”” said McPherson.

    The most important issue will be the use of alternative fuels in the future, said McPherson.

    But the Southwest faces another crisis; global warming will make for a dryer climate and severe droughts will drain an already dwindling supply of water, and UA scientists are concerned about whether there will be water for a sustainable future in the Southwest, said Gary Woodard, associate director of sustainability of semi-arid hydrology and riparian areas, or SAHRA.

    In an effort to combat these issues, student and faculty research groups are integrating renewable sources of energy on campus and into the curriculum.

    UA turning a new leaf

    The UA is already making the switch from exhaustive fossil fuels to renewable ethanol-based fuels, said Walt Kavanagh, assistant director of business services for Facilities Management.

    “”Out of the hundred vehicles in our motor pool, about a third of them use E85,”” Kavanagh said.

    E85 fuel is 85 percent pure grain alcohol and 15 percent petroleum, said Colleen Crowninshield, program manager of Pima Association of Government Clean Cities.

    E85 burns faster than fossil fuels, so drivers will experience a reduction in fuel economy but an increase in performance, she said.

    Filling your gas tank with E85 fuel will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 37.1 percent, reduce carbon monoxide emissions by 35 percent and replace harmful exhaust emissions with less volatile organic compounds, said Phil Lampert, executive director of the National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition.

    Ethanol fuel also poses a much lower risk to the environment than oil or gasoline spills because it degrades more quickly in water, according to the NEVC Web site.

    Adding petroleum to the mix is more of a safety precaution than just another way for the government to impose a tax, said Crowninshield.

    “”If you’ve ever seen a seen a Formula One race car go up in flames, you’ll know that there are no flames involved with ethanol fuel; you wouldn’t know where the fire is coming from,”” said Crowninshield.

    E85 fuel costs Facilities Management $2.167 per gallon, and regular unleaded fuel costs $2.154 per gallon.

    The Pinal Energy Ethanol Refinery that is being built is expected to start producing 55 million gallons of E85 fuel per year beginning in March, said Crowninshield.

    The use of ethanol fuel isn’t the only change the UA implemented.

    Four years ago, the UA started a three-year water conservation plan that has drastically improved water usage on campus, said Christopher Kopach, associate director of Facilities Management.

    “”The water irrigation systems have been computerized for efficiency and use reclaimed water instead of potable water,”” said Kopach.

    Kopach said the entire irrigation system between East Speedway Boulevard and East Sixth Street from Old Main to North Campbell Avenue now uses reclaimed water.

    “”That area includes all of the athletic fields and the (UA) Mall,”” said Kopach.

    It’s difficult to monetize water sustainability, said Andrew Comrie, associate vice president of research.

    “”Monetary savings are being made in terms of supplying the water and to those who are paying for it, but the main thing is that we are saving the environment,”” Comrie said.

    A large percentage of water in the U.S. is used to create energy in nuclear and coal power plants, said Woodard.

    “”It takes a lot of water to create energy and a lot of energy to move and treat water,”” he said.

    In an effort to conserve energy, Facilities Management now freezes utility water overnight to supplement chilled water production, said Robert Herman, assistant director of facilities management.

    McPherson said the university’s new administration has embraced sustainability issues.

    The UA joined the American Association For Sustainability in Higher Education in August, and Comrie is coordinating all of the environmental groups and clubs on campus.

    “”Now that we have new leadership that recognizes sustainability matters, we’re heading in the right direction,”” said McPherson.

    Students lead environmental efforts

    But alternative fuel is only one facet of environmental sustainability.

    Students, along with faculty and staff members, are also working to make campus more efficient and environmentally friendly.

    The Energy Conservation and Lifestyle Initiative Partnering Students and their Environment, or ECLIPSE, is a student club on campus working on bringing solar power to the university through Project Solar.

    The project will install solar panels donated by Tucson Electric Power at the UA Visitor Center, said Leona Davis, president of ECLIPSE.

    “”This project exemplifies using a resource that is in abundance and not creating any waste at the same time,”” said Davis, a natural resources senior.

    Davis said the panels will be installed before the end of this academic year.

    The energy absorbed by the panels will be directed to TEP’s main energy reserve, saving an average of $100 per month on the UA’s energy bill, said Davis.

    The Participating Agents in Resource Allocation for Sustainable Living and Learning, or PARASOL, is another campus club concerned with environmental sustainability.

    PARASOL works closely with its sister organization, ECLIPSE, but focuses instead on water use and conservation, said Emilie Brill Duisberg, president of PARASOL.

    Duisberg, an anthropology senior, coordinated a summer-long water harvesting project, leading a group of 25 students to divert rain water that would normally have flooded the streets to plant life surrounding the Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering building.

    “”It was a collaborative effort,”” said Duisberg. “”It could not have been done by one person.””

    The group of students dug basins around trees in the area and created a series of connecting basins that eventually led to a storm drain, said Duisberg.

    Student labor and the materials required for the project were paid for by a grant PARASOL received from the U.S. Geological Survey through the Water Resources Research Center, said Duisberg.

    Duisberg recently received the Student Sustainability Achievement Award from AASHE for her efforts. The award is given to one student from a list of members from all over the U.S. and Canada.

    PARASOL’s mission to institutionalize water sustainability has leaked into the College of Agriculture and Life Science’s curriculum.

    The soil, water and environmental science department will be offering an upper-division course on water harvesting in the near future pending approval, said Duisberg.

    Future plans for PARASOL include the mapping of other potential water harvesting sites that will serve as a tool to facilitate the implementation of water sustainability on campus, said Duisberg.

    The goal of the AASHE is to incorporate sustainability in the curriculum, said Jim Riley, an associate professor of water, soil and environmental sciences.

    “”Students have really taken charge of the program,”” said Riley. “”It was them who said, ‘We don’t just want to study sustainability, we want to do something about it on campus.'””

    Looking toward a sustainable future

    Despite the UA’s efforts, one professor said he believes the future of the Southwest is bleak.

    Jonathan Overpeck, an atmospheric sciences professor who is also the director of the Institute for the Study of Planet Earth, will be lecturing Oct. 24 on sustainability.

    “”I am going to challenge the idea that the Southwest is sustainable,”” said Overpeck.

    The lecture is part of a seven-lecture series at the UA that will discuss the history of climate change in an effort to raise more awareness about global climate change through topics ranging from the impact on the ocean to disease to policy changes. The lectures will begin in October and run through mid-November.

    Overpeck said his goal is to lecture on how climate will change globally in the future.

    The Southwest will warm substantially, and Arizonans can expect a drier climate with more frequent and severe droughts, increasing the likelihood of forest fires, Overpeck said.

    “”We are going to get hit the hardest, the soonest,”” said Overpeck.

    Overpeck has a three-pronged solution to combat climate change: focus on adaptation strategies, make use of wind and solar power and emphasize conservation.

    The future supply and quality of water is uncertain, and education programs are key in teaching students environmental sustainability, said Jackie Moxley, program coordinator for the Water Sustainability Program.

    Riley said UA students are in a position to improve the way they treat the environment.

    “”We need to manage our resources in such a way that we can leave behind a better world for later generations,”” said Comrie.

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